“Called Alongside”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

June 25, 2017

John 14:15-27


You have an Advocate!  (Turn to someone near you and tell them that.)

Or, if you prefer to read from the slightly older Revised Standard Version, which I know is written on many of your hearts—you have a Counselor!  (Turn to someone near you and tell them that.)

Or, if you prefer to read from the quite a bit older King James Version—you have a Comforter!  (Turn to someone near you and tell them that.)

Or, if you prefer to read from the newer Common English Bible, which is the version we give to our third graders each year—you have a Companion!  (Turn to someone near you and tell them that.)

Or, if you prefer to read from the more contemporary-sounding Message translation—you have a Friend.  (Turn to someone near you one more time and tell them that.)

You have an Advocate, a Counselor, a Comforter, a Companion, a Friend.  And this is not just any advocate, counselor, comforter, companion, friend.  We are talking about a divine advocate.  A wise counselor.  A heavenly comforter.  A God-given companion.  A friend of your soul.

And you don’t just have that Advocate today.  You don’t just have that Counselor momentarily.  You don’t just have that Comforter on good days.  You don’t just have that Companion when you’re feeling lovable.  This is not just a fair-weather Friend.  No, the One Jesus promises in our scripture reading for this morning, the One who comes from God to accompany and guide you, is with you forever.

The word that is variously translated as Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Companion, and Friend is a Greek word, parakletos, which means, literally, “called alongside.”  In this season after Pentecost, as we reflect on the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit, this is an important part of our understanding—the Spirit as the one who is “called alongside” each one of us.  And I love that that Greek word, parakletos, is translated in so many different ways, because it underscores the breadth and the depth of what it means for the Spirit to be “called alongside” us.

When you find yourself in a bit of a situation…  When you’re in hot water and you’re not sure how to get out…  When you are stuck in systems that confine, or oppress, or diminish your humanity or that of people you love…  When nothing seems to be going your way…  You have an Advocate!  The Holy Spirit is on your team, nudging you along and cheering you on, pleading your case with those who would oppose you, making sure you eventually find your way out of that sticky situation and into a place where you can be whole and healthy, where you can flourish and grow and thrive.

When you are confused…  When you are afraid…  When you are all in a muddle…  When you have no earthly idea what to do…  When it feels like the world has shifted beneath your feet and you don’t know which way is up, let alone north our south or east or west…  You have a Counselor!  The Holy Spirit is by your side, guiding you when you are lost, orienting you when you are perplexed and bewildered, sharing advice when you don’t know where to begin, making sure you eventually find your path again.

When your heart is broken…  When you have cried until your tears ran dry…  When personal or familial tragedy has shaken you to your foundations…  When the events of the world have left you feeling hopeless…  When it seems like injustice has grown all the way down to the bedrock and will never be uprooted…  You have a Comforter!  The Holy Spirit is with you, picking up your shattered pieces, offering a hug and a good shoulder to cry on, rubbing your back and whispering “I know, I know,” in your ear, offering a glimpse of hope that will help you get up and keep going.

When you are lonely…  When the one you love is gone…  When it feels like nobody has your back…  When you’ve been on your own for so long that you feel like you might be going crazy…  When it feels like everything depends on you…  You have a Companion!  The Holy Spirit hears your cry and responds, sitting with you through the shadows of the night, looking out for you while you sleep and while you wake, keeping you company, come what may.

When you need someone to talk to…  When you need someone to laugh with…  When you need someone who understands you without the need for explanations…  When you need someone who will call you on your BS and love you anyway…  When you need someone to share the journey in all its agony and ecstasy…  You have a Friend!  The Holy Spirit is right there to support you, encourage you, challenge you, and love you, no matter what.

But if you’re like me, then sometimes a spiritual advocate, counselor, comforter, companion, friend is a little too ethereal, a little too hypothetical, a little too invisible, a little too intangible.  If you’re like me, then while knowing that God is called alongside you is good news indeed, sometimes you need flesh and blood, bone and sinew.  Sometimes you need an advocate, counselor, comforter, companion, friend who is not just spiritual, but embodied.

And that’s why we have community.  That’s why you have one another.  Because sometimes the person sitting next to you needs you to be their advocate.  Because sometimes you need the person sitting behind you to be your counselor.  Because sometimes the person sitting across the sanctuary needs you to be their comforter, companion, friend.  And by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can.  (Turn to someone near you and tell them, “I will be your Advocate!  I will be your Comforter!  I will be your Friend!”)

But here’s the thing.  The Holy Spirit is for you—but not only for you.  The Holy Spirit is not just a gift for us, here in this beautiful sanctuary on Woodstock Hill.  The Holy Spirit is a gift for everyone.

For the refugee family beginning a new life in a foreign land…

For the soldier sent into battle far from home…

For the prisoner in solitary confinement…
For the children who dread the end of the school year because without school lunch, they know they will be hungry all summer long…

For LGBTQ young people who live on the streets because their families have kicked them out…

For people who have to choose between going to the doctor and keeping the electricity on because they cannot afford to do both…

For people of color whose very humanity is diminished by the persistent, insidious infestation of racism in our culture, in our institutions, in our bodies, minds, and spirits…

For every person in danger, there is an Advocate.  For every person in difficulty, there is a Counselor.  For every person in pain, there is a Comforter.  For every person in struggle, there is a Companion.  For you, for me, for every person under heaven, there is a Friend.

And if you, if I, if we sometimes need to experience that Advocate, Counselor, Comforter, Companion, Friend in the flesh—so does every other person under heaven.  So I wonder, how are you, how am I, how are we called alongside, not only for one another, but for every one of our human siblings who is in danger, in difficulty, in struggle?  What does it look like for us to make God’s loving presence real through our own embodiment, our own voices and faces and hands and feet and hearts and souls and lives?

You have an Advocate, a Counselor, a Comforter, a Companion, a Friend.  And you ARE an advocate, a counselor, a comforter, a companion, a friend—or if you aren’t yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can be, and you will be.  You are not God, nor am I asking you to be—but you can join with God in the work of making sure no one is left comfortless, no one is left without counsel, no one is left alone or unsupported, no one is left friendless.

Dear ones, don’t you want to be part of that?


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